New Hebron, California
Sapphira bit his lip and cast his eyes about the restaurant. His cheeks burned as a fellow on the other side of the room met his gaze and smiled. He averted his eyes and let out a sigh of relief when he saw Amelia making her way back toward their table. He wanted to bolt, already regretting his choice, but knowing if he backed out now, he’d lose a chance to sink his teeth in a nice juicy steak.
Two days passed since they’d retrieved his belongings from his old apartment and he couldn’t shake the feeling he’d betrayed his wife and daughter by giving so many of their former possessions away. He had little choice. He was relying on AEGIS to transition into his new life and without them he would find it difficult to move forward. They had certain conditions for giving their aid and dictating what sort of items they allowed him to keep. It was another way to ensure their control.
In turth, it wasn’t feasible for him to keep much of it. Amelia had limited space in her home to spare. He’d kept a few keepsakes and photo albums. They would either toss the rest, give it to Hailey or put it up to auction and sold in an estate sale. They would return the proceeds of to him, minus all the auction fees, transportation costs and AEGIS’ cut.
The whole ordeal left him feeling as if everything his life were spiraling out of his control and his current predicament did nothing to help.
He glanced down, his cheeks burning anew as he looked down into the plunging neckline of his dress. The location had been Amelia’s idea and to say it had surprised him was an understatement. Dominique’s was well beyond the price range Amelia specified when they’d first struck their little bargain.
She’d tacked on another price and it had been a doozy, at least, in his eyes. He must wear an outfit suitable to the locale, the ridiculous dress that seemed to reveal every little curve. When she divulged this new stipulation, he almost turned her down flat, but when she looked at him with the big hazel eyes he couldn’t bring himself to tell her no.
He’d spent every moment since slipping the damn thing on, regretting that decision. She hadn’t yet pushed him to get his ears pierced, or wear cosmetics, but she did persuade him to get a haircut. Though he’d resisted the idea at first, his hair was a little ragged and he kept hearing his mother’s voice in the back of his head lecturing him about grooming and hygiene. So he relented and submitted himself yet another assault against his dwindling masculinity. He felt as if he’d sold the final few bits of his manhood for a damn slab of meat.
His dress was skin-tight and displayed a helluva lot of cleavage, a cheaper version of the sort a celebrity whore might wear on the red carpet. He thought for sure his breasts might pop out of the little thing, but somehow they remained in place. When he brought his hand up to slip a lock of hair back behind his ear, he paused, and let out a long sigh. Why hadn’t he gotten his hair cut short?
He’d grown up in an age when men wore short hair and women kept theirs long. He hadn’t even given the idea much thought, so accustomed to the gender norms under which his parents had raised him, but he’d spent almost every moment since rethinking that notion. Why should he have long hair? He was a man… where it counted.
Deep in thought, he watched the agent move way from him and toward the restrooms. She wore a red number, that wasn’t as revealing as his outfit, but which helped show off her slender form. Not a curvaceous woman, her professional attire did little to show off her figure, but her little dress helped accentuate what little she had. It must have worked he couldn’t take his eyes off her. That’s probably why he didn’t take notice of the man as he approached.
It wasn’t until his shadow loomed over the table that Sapphira took notice. He damn near jumped out of his skin and let out a startled gasp as he stared up at the newcomer.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” he glanced down at Sapphira scratching the bag of his neck and slipping into the seat opposite him.
“Waddya, want?” Sapphira folded his arms across his chest, his cheeks burning anew as he looked up at the newcomer. The same fellow who’d smiled at him from across the restaurant a few moments ago.
“I saw you sitting here by yourself and I thought I’d come over and introduce myself. I couldn’t believe a woman as beautiful as you would be here all by yourself.”
“That’s because I’m not.” He answered back between gritted teeth.
“That explains it,” he smiled. “I’m Jerry. What’s—”
Sapphira leaned forward, and pounded his fist down onto the table harder than he’d intended, but not enough to cause damage. “I will only say this once, I don’t date men and if I did it wouldn’t be a fair-haired jiggaboo lovin’ nancy boy with jungle fever. So why don’t you get the hell away from me before I punch your skinny little ass in the face.”
Jerry’s eyebrows shot way up and he leaned back in his seat, mouth agape. “Um, what?”
“You heard me.”
“Right, well, I’m not sure what the hell just happened, but I know when to throw in the towel.” He threw his hands up on the table, stood up and walked away, all the while glancing back toward Sapphire and shaking his head.
Sapphira couldn’t be sure, but he might have heard the fellow mutter ‘crazy bitch’ under his breath as he moved away. He sat there, observing him for several long seconds, both fists clenched atop the table, only averting his gaze when Amelia returned slipping into the seat Jerry had just vacated.
“Everything all right?”
Sapphira shook his head and let out a long sigh. “Bastard thought he’d put the charms on me.”
Amelia craned her neck around, following his gaze, and slipped a hand over her companion’s. “Well, he is cute.”
Sapphira bit his lip, cleared his throat and grabbed a menu from off the table, unwilling to dignify her statement with a response.
“Cute? He ain’t my type.”
“Well, you better get used to it. With your looks, a lot of guys will be barking up your tree.”
Sapphira scowled, but didn’t say another word, opting instead to look over the menu. He knew the agent was right, but the whole encounter with that Nancy boy had left a bitter taste in his mouth. Confused enough, he didn’t need every horn dog skirt-chaser putting charms on him every time he stepped outside.
Their waiter came by to take their order and Sapphira damn near salivating over the prospect of a good steak dinner soon forgot about his discomfort. When the waiter returned with their meals, he was already loosening up. That might have had something to do with the drinks.
Far lighter as a woman as he had been as a man, it didn’t occur to him he’d get tipsy after a single drink. By the time he realized what happened he’d become too inebriated to care. Regret would come later.